Kenya pins hope on carbon credits being host to climate summit

Kenya pins hope on carbon credits being host to climate summit

Deep within Kasigau, a vast expanse of rugged hills and savannah inhabited by elephants, a team equipped with clipboards and measuring tapes is conducting a study on an unassuming tree. Despite its gnarled and leafless appearance, this tree holds significant value: it stores carbon. The team’s mission is to precisely determine the amount of carbon sequestered within this semi-arid, half-a-million-acre woodland in southern Kenya.

Geoffrey Mwangi, the lead scientist at Wildlife Works, a US-based company, emphasizes the importance of accounting for every single tree in the region. The data collected translates into carbon credits, a valuable commodity that has been purchased by corporate giants like Netflix and Shell to offset their greenhouse gas emissions and enhance their environmental reputations.

Growing Demand for Carbon Credits Amid Climate Change

As the pace of climate change accelerates and pressure mounts on companies and nations to address their carbon footprints, the demand for carbon credits has surged, even though their reputation has suffered setbacks. African countries, facing financial challenges, seek a more substantial share of the $2-billion carbon credits market, which is projected to quintuple by 2030.

Despite being home to the world’s second-largest rainforest and substantial carbon-absorbing ecosystems such as mangroves and peatlands, Africa only contributes 11% of the world’s carbon offsets. Kenyan President William Ruto sees Africa’s carbon sinks as an “unparalleled economic goldmine” capable of absorbing millions of tons of CO2 annually, translating into billions of dollars.

Carbon Credits and Their Role

A single carbon credit signifies the removal or reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Companies purchase these credits from activities like renewable energy production, tree planting, or forest protection. Carbon markets are largely unregulated, and concerns about the effectiveness of forest-based offsets and their impact on communities have led to a drop in prices this year.

Kenya, which already leads in carbon offset production in Africa, envisions a more significant domestic industry that can generate employment opportunities and foster economic growth. Ali Mohamed, the president’s special envoy for climate change, expresses the country’s ambition to expand its share of the African carbon credits market.

Protecting Forests and Generating Revenue

In Kasigau, an initiative led by Wildlife Works, landowners and communities are financially incentivized to preserve the forest. Revenue generated from the project has created employment for approximately 400 people and financed essential infrastructure projects in an underserved region of Kenya. These investments include water, education, and healthcare facilities that were previously lacking.

Avoiding deforestation supports climate goals by retaining carbon in soil and trees, preventing its release into the atmosphere. The Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project, run by Wildlife Works, became the world’s first to generate certified carbon credits through this method. It has been independently verified multiple times and is credited with avoiding around 22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions since 2011.

Challenges and Opportunities

Kenya’s ambitions for the carbon credits market are substantial, with potential for hundreds of thousands of jobs and annual revenue reaching $600 million. However, these projections depend on factors such as carbon prices and increased financing in a market struggling to establish trust and integrity.

As Kenya hosts the Africa Climate Summit, concerns have been raised by civil society organizations about the reliance on carbon markets. Some argue that these approaches favor wealthy nations and corporations, perpetuating pollution while harming Africa’s interests. Nevertheless, proponents view carbon markets as a means of ensuring accountability, with rich polluting nations bearing the financial burden.

Countries are moving towards regulating the carbon credits sector, aiming to ensure transparency and equitable distribution of revenues. Kenya is finalizing its own legislation in this regard, with a focus on striking a balance between attracting investment and safeguarding the interests of communities and the environment. Wildlife Works founder Mike Korchinsky expresses confidence that projects like Kasigau will withstand scrutiny and uphold their environmental and economic benefits.

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